Sumner Redstone up close

We can't seem to get anough of the Viacom chairman. In the December Vanity Fair, Bryan Burrough gets his chance at dissecting the 83-year-old mogul. The thread of the piece is Redstone's health and mortality. The consensus among those unnamed Hollywood types is that Redstone's firing of the two Toms (Freston and Cruise) was less about substance and more about showing the world that he's still the man - even if his actions might suggest otherwise.

Sitting in a straight-backed chair in the living room, attired in an unfortunate blue plaid jacket and black shoes, Redstone comes across as feisty as he did when he burst onto the financial scene, 20 years ago. But he looks frail and has a senior moment or three, losing his train of thought, repeating stories, and asking that a question or two be repeated. Still, he appears in total command, roundly attacking Cruise and, while emphasizing how much he admires Freston, trashing him nonetheless. He appears in command, that is, until the very end, when he stands to shake my hand and, to my horror, suddenly lurches to one side and begins to fall.


In person Redstone can be impatient and curt, snapping at waiters and subordinates. During our interview, when his P.R. man tried to correct him, Redstone barked, "Quiet!'' "He's not a man who has many friends,'' another Hollywood mogul told me, "and you know, I see him a lot, and he doesn't know what a real friend is. He has no sense of other people. It's all about him, and it always has been. He has a tremendous ego. But he has no grace. No charm. Really, he's not loyal to anyone but himself. Before [his wife] Paula came along, he was really all alone.''

Ah, Paula - the mysterious ex-school teacher who seems to be around him all the time.

At the heart of Redstone's new life, in fact, is an unlikely love story, one he and Paula haven't discussed publicly until now. It began in 2001. Phyllis lived quietly in Boston, while he worked in New York. During the 1990s, Redstone more or less openly dated other women, notably Christine Peters, ex-wife of producer Jon Peters. Nothing, however, appeared to soften his sharp edges; subordinates viewed him as a crabby old man who scoffed at executives who left before seven at night. A number of associates felt steady companionship might make him happier, or at least make his twilight years less lonely.

One of Redstone's brokers at Bear Stearns, Steven Sweetwood, who supervises Viacom's stock-buyback plans, was ruminating about the situation with another Bear Stearns executive when the second executive mentioned that his wife had a friend, an elementary-school teacher, who had never married. The two Wall Streeters conspired to arrange a blind date.

"Let me tell you the story,'' Paula Redstone says. A slim, attractive brunette, she leans forward on the edge of a sofa to Redstone's left, elbows on knees, as we talk. The two have been inseparable since marrying in April 2003, never spending a night apart. At industry conferences, parties, and just about anywhere Redstone is seen these days, she is at his side. Lately she's even been spotted sitting in on meetings at Viacom, trying to better understand Redstone's business.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent stories:
Siri versus Hawaiian pidgin (video)
Letter from Down Under: Welcome to the Homogenocene
One last Florida photo
Signs of Saturday: No refund
'I Am Woman,' hear them roar
Previous story: November surprise?

Next story: Beverly Center escalators

New at LA Observed
On the Media Page
Go to Media

On the Politics Page
Go to Politics
Arts and culture

Sign up for daily email from LA Observed

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
LA Observed on Twitter and Facebook